Hong Kong Opens High-Speed Rail Link to Mainland
(Hong Kong) — Hong Kong has officially opened its high-speed rail connection to the Chinese mainland, concluding a long planning and construction process filled with delays and controversy.
The city is entering a “new era” with the completion of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL), Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Saturday at the opening ceremony for the rail link’s final 26-kilometer (16.2-mile) Hong Kong section at the West Kowloon rail station.
After the ceremony, Lam along with other guests boarded an XRL train to Guangzhou, the capital of neighboring Guangdong province. The first trains carrying paying passengers will begin running Sunday.
The XRL cuts travel times between Hong Kong and Guangzhou down to 48 minutes from the previous two hours, according to Hong Kong’s Transport and Housing Bureau. Rail journeys to Beijing will now take nine hours, compared to 24 hours by conventional train, now that Hong Kong is plugged into the Chinese mainland’s extensive high-speed rail network.
But the rail link’s journey to completion has been far from smooth. Planning began in 2008 on the XRL, whose setbacks over the years have included budget overruns and local residents’ protests.
Opposition to the XRL’s immigration and customs arrangement, which gives mainland immigration officers enforcement powers within a section of the city-center West Kowloon terminus, sparked demonstrations and a legal debate in which some argued the arrangement violated Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
The project also drew the ire of local villagers when it was revealed early on that Choi Yuen Tsuen (also known as Tsoi Yuen Tsuen), an agricultural community in Hong Kong’s New Territories district, would be demolished and its residents relocated to make way for the rail link. Residents protested as government engineers and police officers arrived to reclaim village land in 2010, the South China Morning Post reported at the time.
The XRL’s completion date was pushed back several times because of unforeseen delays, including flooding in March 2014 that severely damaged tunneling equipment. Just a week before its opening date, the rail link survived Typhoon Mangkhut, which smashed windows and shook skyscrapers across Hong Kong.
Costs have also ballooned beyond the original 2010 budget of HK$65 billion ($8.3 billion), reaching an estimated HK$84.4 billion as of June 2017, according to figures provided by the city’s MTR Corp., which oversaw construction and operations.
The Express Rail Link has also divided Hong Kongers over whether it will bring any benefit to the city. As many as 109,200 passengers are expected to use the XRL daily, with ticket prices ranging from HK$80 for a one-way trip from Hong Kong to Shenzhen Futian Railway Station to HK$260 for a trip to Guangzhou.
Around 230,000 XRL tickets for trips on the Hong Kong section have already been sold, Frank Chan, the city’s Secretary for Transport and Housing, told reporters Saturday.
“The Express Rail Link gives me a faster transport method, saving me a lot of time,” said August Chen, a Hong Kong resident working in wealth management who travels to Guangzhou several times a month. “I plan to try it this month.”
But Ivy Sun, an executive assistant at a Hong Kong-based company, said that the usefulness of the XRL “really depends on where you live in Hong Kong,” and that “the high speed railway may be more beneficial for (travel to) cities that are not so close to Hong Kong,” as multiple attractive options already exist for Hong Kong residents wanting to go to Shenzhen or other cities in Guangdong.
The XRL’s opening comes as China plans to integrate the neighboring special administrative regions of Macau and Hong Kong with Guangdong’s cities into a “Greater Bay Area.” Another transport link, the 26.9-kilometer-long bridge linking Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland city of Zhuhai, is set to open later this year. The bridge will be the world’s longest over sea.
Contact reporter Teng Jing Xuan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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